Brewing Terms

Beer Terms

Before we get into any more about beer, it’s probably a good idea that you understand some of the terms that beer drinkers often use.  As with any culinary or scientific topic, there’s an entire language used to describe and discuss beer and the brewing process.

Here’s a glossary of some of the most commonly used terms, most of which will find their way into the following pages.  If, when perusing this book, you find yourself pondering over the contextual meaning of a word that you otherwise think you’d know, look it up here.

Adjunct [aj-uhngkt] noun – An unmalted grain or fermentable (like rice, corn or sugar) added to beer to increase the fermentable sugar content without contributing to the flavor.  These are the primary things the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) of 1516 rule that brewers stay away from, and for good reason.

Amber [am-ber] noun – Refers to the style or color of a beer.  An Amber beer is one that contains special caramelized malts to give it an amber color, while an amber color refers to a beer that resembles orange amber (golden orange for those of you who have never seen amber).  If a beer is amber in color, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the beer is an Amber-style beer.

Balance [bal-uhns] noun – The combination and relationship of components in a beer. When neither the sweetness of malt nor the bitterness of hops predominates a beer is said to be well balanced. (See well balanced.)

Belgian Lace [bel-juhn-leys]  noun – Sounds like something you’d find on a well-dressed Brussels prostitute, but it’s actually the residual head pattern left behind on the side of a glass due to high glycerin levels of the beer.  Why “Belgian”?  I have no idea…

Big [big] adjective – This either refers to the boldness or fullness of flavor due to rich malts or (most commonly) refers to a high level of alcohol by volume, also known as high-gravity.  “Big Beers” usually refer to beers with more than 10% ABV.

Bitter [bit-er] adjective, noun – Hops and some other herbs have “bittering” qualities that contrast with the sweetness of malt.  This is a word that describes this herbal, jaw-clenching characteristic.  It’s also the name used by British to represent a very dry ale having a strong taste of hops (i.e. “Extra Special Bitter”).

Bitterness Unit (IBU) [bit-er-nis-yoo-nit] noun – A unit of measurement that defines the amount and intensity of hops in a beer.  IBU is an acronym for International Bittering Units.  Anything over about 75 IBUs may require the drinker acquire a palate for such beautifully hopped beers to enjoy them at the fullest extent possible.

Black [blak] adjective – As in the color.  Used to describe the appearance of a really dark beer.  Also used to describe your memory and/or state of consciousness after drinking too much.

Bland [bland] adjective – Lacking qualities that contribute to a beer’s flavor.  Although bland beers can lack character, that doesn’t mean they’re always unpleasant.  After all, a bland beer is often better than a foul-flavored beer.  Note that “bland” and “offensive” have two completely different meanings.

Body [bod-ee] noun – The texture or viscosity/density of a beer in your mouth.  The characteristics of a beer’s body is usually determined by malt proteins and dextrins left behind during the fermentation process.

Bomber [bom-er] noun – A 22-ounce beer bottle.

Bouquet [boh-key, boo- for 1, 2; boo-key or, occas., boh- for 3] noun – All the characteristics of a beer’s aroma or flavor (but usually aroma), wrapped up in a single bouquet, which you experience as a whole.  Much like the singular experience of smelling a bouquet of many different types of flowers.

Buttery [buhtuh-ree] adjective – Self-descriptive smell and taste (although not texture) caused by the presence of a thing called diacetyl, one of the byproducts of the fermentation process.  Yes, if you’re wondering, this is the same compound that gives butter its trademark flavor.  Without diacetyl, butter wouldn’t be so delicious.

Caramel [karuh-muhl, -mel, kahrmuhl] noun – A slightly burnt, toffee-like flavor more often found in sweeter, maltier beers. Caramel (or “Crystal“) malts describe a type of grain that undergoes a special stewing process during malting resulting in a crystalline sugar structure inside the grain’s hull. These grains give a sweet, caramel flavor to the finished beer.

Character [kar-ik-ter] noun – The unmistakable and/or distinctive features or qualities of a beer.

Clean [kleen] adjective – Absence of foreign and unpleasant odors or flavors.  Like the beer version of spring water as opposed to poor quality tap water.

Clove [klohv] noun – An herbaceous flavor often experienced in wheat beers thanks to the dried flower bud of a tropical tree, Syzygium aromaticum, of the myrtle family, used whole or ground as a spice.

Cloying [kloi-ing] adjective – A word used to describe an excessively sweet and/or heavy beer that lacks the acidity to make it crisp and interesting, and sometimes even cause disgust or aversion.

Coarse [kawrs, kohrs] adjective – Rough texture; lacking breed.

Crappy [krap-ee] adjective – Having qualities of crap, or qualities just as bad as crap would usually have. If a beer tastes crappy, this is a very bad sign.  You have to wonder why and how such a beer ever was even considered for mass consumption as a representation of a brewery.

Crisp [krisp] adjective – A desirable feature most commonly found in Weiss beers and pilsners; firm, refreshing, positive acidity.

Depth [depth] noun – Richness, subtlety; seemingly layers of interwoven flavors.

Fermentation [fur-men-teyshuhn] noun – Scientific term for the biological process that happens when yeast enzymes convert sugar into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

Finish [fin-ish] noun – The final, lingering taste of a beer.  A beer cannot be considered well balanced without a good finish.

Flat [flat] adjective – Dull, insipid, lacking carbonation and/or acidity.

Flowery [flouuh-ree] adjective – Fragrant and/or flowerlike.  This term can be used to describe either the floral characteristics of a beer or the hops, as hops are a flower that can very naturally exhibit a beautiful floral or herbal aroma.

Fresh [fresh] adjective – A beer without detectable traces of oxidation.  Fresh beer can be several months or even years old… as long as it tastes fresh.

Fruity [froo-tee] adjective – The presence in beer of grape, apple, blackberry, cherry, black currant, newly mown hay, peach, pear, apricots, banana or other trace flavors known as esters. Fruity beers should not be confused with Lambics, which are made with fruits or use fruit as a primary fermentable.

Full-bodied [foolbod-eed] A full strength, richness, or abundance of flavors, especially malt, in a beer.  Not necessarily representative of a high alcohol presence; however, the alcohol presence in a beer can affect the body of a beer.

Funk [fuhngk] noun –  The state or quality of being funky.  A term used when describing an awkward flavor or aroma, but usually when describing a strong, odd smell/stench emanating from a beer.

Growler [grou-ler] noun – Traditionally, the informal term for a pitcher, pail, or other container brought by a customer for beer.  More specifically, a half-gallon bottle sold/available to consumers (sometimes sold by pubs and breweries) that can be filled with beer at a brewpub.

Haze [heyz] noun – An opalescent appearance that subdues a beer’s appearance.  This is caused by protein or yeast in suspension, giving beer a turbidity and similar mouth feel.

Head [hed] noun – The foam/froth on top of a glass of beer.  The best beers can have a head composed of small, tightly packed bubbles, or a large, billowing, uneven head.  The head can easily be ruined by using a glass that is not “beer clean” (thoroughly rinsed with cold water until absolutely no soap residue remains on the glass).  On the other hand, some beers just don’t have a head.  Samuel Adams Utopias, with more than a 25% ABV, has no head but is a fantastic beer.  Bottled beers that have a ridiculously high alcohol presence are less likely to produce large heads because it’s harder for the yeast to thrive (or live for that matter) after bottling.

Heavy [hev-ee] adjective – Not necessarily a complimentary term.  Lacking in acidity and poorly balanced.  Also used to describe a style of Scottish beer that has a heavy malt presence.

Hop [hop] noun – The female flowers of the perennial hop-producing plant, Humulus Lupulus.  Only female plants produce the cone-shaped hops used in brewing.

Hop Head [hop-hed] noun – Someone who has taken to beers with such a strong or well-flavored hop presence that they crave strongly hopped beers on a regular basis.  Hey, it’s addictive.

Lacing [ley-sing] noun – The residual stuff that sticks to a glass as a head dissipates; what clings to the sides of a glass after the contents have been swirled; what remains on the sides of a glass after the contents have been emptied (consumed).  This is also referred to as, “legs”.

Lawnmower [lawn-moh-er] adjective – How you would describe or label an inoffensive beer that is absent of any real character.  A beer that’s good enough to drink while you mow your lawn, but that’s about it.

Malting – The process of moistening grain, allowing it to germinate, and then stopping germination by heating or drying in a kiln. Malting converts insoluble starch in barley or other grains into sugars that can be fermented.

Malty – A beer with an earthy flavor of roasted malt. Malty flavors include caramel, treacle, molasses, smoke, roasted, coffee-like and earthy.

Microbrew – Beer produced by a small brewery that makes all-malt beers according to traditional recipes.

Mouth feel – The texture and warmth (or coolness) of a beer as felt by the mouth.

Oxidized – A flat, stale, off-taste due to exposure to oxygen.  Sometimes tastes metallic.

Palate – This either refers to the drinker’s sense of taste or the experience itself of the beer in the mouth on the drinker’s palate.

Rich – Should not automatically imply sweetness although it often does in barley wines and other high-gravity brews.  Also short for “Richard”.

Sessionable – The ability for a beer to be consumed over a long period of time (or a “session”).  Heavier, more taxing beers are not sessionable.  Beers that go down easy and don’t have any qualities that might make the drinker want to stop drinking it are sessionable.  If you ever wanted to go on a craft beer drinking binge, it’d be best to stick to these beers.

Silky – A firm yet distinctly soft texture on the palate. A common characteristic of stouts and porters.

Smooth – Soft, easy texture. No rough edges.

Spicy – A rich aroma and flavor bestowed mostly by hops, and occasionally by other natural seasonings and preservatives such as oregano, orange peel, lemon, peppers and coriander.

Styles – Traditional categorization of classic beer tastes based on different recipes.

Taste – The sensory impression imparted on the taste buds when food or drink is consumed.

Thin – Deficient in natural properties; watery, lacking body.

Well-balanced – A beer in which neither the sweetness of the malt nor the bitterness of the hops predominates.

Yeast – An organic compound that feeds on the sugars present in the sweet wort and creates two by-products: alcohol and carbon dioxide. Louis Pasteur first discovered its true role in the late 19th century. In the Middle Ages, it was known as “God is good.”


Chemical and Biochemical Concepts

A good grasp of the complexities of brewing needs you to get to grips with various terms and processes. The list of terms below may appear to be highly technical jargon, but these terms are necessary to explain the complex concepts involved in brewing.

pH – This is a way of gauging the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The H signifies H+, which refers to hydrogen ions; these are protons which carry a positive electrical charge. The more H+ ions, the more acidic the solution, a more alkaline solution yields a soapy taste. The pH scale is logarithmic, each full step signifies a tenfold increase over the previous step.

Neutral pH is at 7, representing neither an excess nor lack of H+ ions. Higher than 7 signifies an alkaline solution while below 7 signifies an acidic solution.

The pH scale is helpful in calculating the acidity or alkalinity of the mash, wort or beer

Molecule – Two or more atoms bound together in a stable configuration through electrochemical bonds.

Ion – An ion is an electrically charged atom or molecule. Water, the key component of beer contains mineral salts such as carbonate or calcium, when these mineral salts dissolve in water they break apart into their separate ions. These dissociated ions can be influenced in numerous ways to reach the required water chemistry for a specific beer.

Mineral salts break down into their individual ions when dissolved in brewing water, this can be manipulated to achieve a desired water chemistry needed to brew a particular type of beer.

Buffering – The capability of particular molecules to absorb acids or bases, these molecules are usually amphoteric (both an acid and a base). This is a vital element of mash chemistry, as many chemicals in this procedure have strong buffering abilities.

Reaction – If matter is to be converted from one chemical state to the other, it needs to experience a chemical reaction. Going into a chemical reaction the reactants have particular energy states, the reaction results in these energy levels being altered, therefore changing the reactants. In order for this to happen energy needs to be put into the system. It helps to think of this energy as a mountain: On one side is before the reaction, the other side is afterwards. To get over the mountain, a push is required to get up the hill so it can roll down the other side afterwards. Certain reactions, such as the conversion of starch molecules into sugar, require a great deal of energy to be put in in order to complete the transformation.

Enzyme – Enzymes are specialized proteins which are often referred to as biological catalysts; they aid chemical reactions by reducing the energy requirement for a reaction to take place. Enzymes have huge effects on reactions, reducing the required energy by a significant margin. There are thousands of different enzymes involved in brewing alone. Life as we know it would be unfeasible without them.

Each enzyme has an optimum temperature, pH, water concentration, and other parameters that affect its efficiency. Enzymes are named after the chemicals they affect and usually end in “. Amylase, one enzyme which splits barley starches which are called amylose and amylopectin, hence the name.

Polymer – A polymer is an organic molecule which is made up of hundreds or thousands of smaller subunits. They are universal in living organisms. In brewing we are most interested in proteins and starches.

Carbohydrates – This is a huge category of compounds built from five- or six-sided ring-shaped molecules. The basic forms in this class monosaccharide sugars, for example glucose or fructose. Two sugar units joined together are known as a disaccharide; in brewing, this is usually maltose. Larger chains are called as oligosaccharides, and when the chain grows bigger than around ten units, it is referred to as starch.

Some sugars and other common carbohydrates involved in brewing include:

Glucose – A simple sugar unleashed during the malting process. Glucose makes up less than 10% of the extract.

Maltose – A two-unit sugar, this is the key fermentable sugar in wort, formed during the mashing phase, this sugar makes up less than 10% of extract.

Maltotriose – A three-unit sugar, a small wort component. Only fermentable by lager yeast.

Maltotetraose – A four-unit sugar un-fermentable by any form of brewers’yeast.

Dextrins – Larger sugars (containing up to 10 units), un-fermentable by any form of brewers’ yeast. The amount of dextrins present in the final beer depends on the brewing process.

Starch – Longer straight-chain (amylose) or branched (amylopectin) carbohydrates. Beer usually has no starch present.

Amino Acid – A group of nitrogen-containing molecules which are the building blocks of proteins. There are only around 20 different amino acids in living organisms. Brewers need to be aware of them as they are a vital aspect of yeast nutrition.

Protein – A specific group of polymeric molecules made up of amino acids. They have a role to play in most biochemical processes, from enzymes to signalling chemicals.

The range of technical details involved in brewing beer is huge and covers everything from metallurgy to biochemistry. We think that before you start your brewing mission, you should brush up on some terms you might come across.